Eduardo Dingler, Wine to Sake: Sake and the cuisine of Charter Oak
Wine to Sake

Eduardo Dingler, Wine to Sake: Sake and the cuisine of Charter Oak

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Nov. 18, 2019 series

As part of an impressive effort to showcase sake’s versatility with the world of culinary treats JFoodo (a Japanese Government Organization committed to promoting Japanese goods) is orchestrating a series of events throughout the United States.

Last week, we attended a dinner prepared by renowned chef Christopher Kostow and his Charter Oak team in which sommelier Nancy Cushman paired the fare with sakes from throughout Japan.

The dinner was at the Cerf Club in San Francisco, which proved to be an excellent venue for the occasion.

Attendees included members of the media, sommeliers and sake professionals who were beyond delighted with the unexpected pairings.

Kostow, who’s also at the helm of three-star Meadowood Restaurant in Napa Valley, curated a bounty consisting of a multi-course, family-style dinner with aesthetically pleasing and flavorful dishes that are served at St. Helena’s Charter Oak Restaurant (at the former Tra Vigne location).

Nancy and her husband own a number of restaurants. Their realm extends from Boston to New York City and now Mexico City where they celebrate sake and its many faces and make new sake drinkers every day.

The sakes ranged in style, region and method of production from the Mio Sparkling sake from Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura Brewery in Nada Prefecture, which was served upon arrival throughout the reception and later with dessert.

This is a unique sake with a distinctive sweeter profile with notes of peaches and cream and a lively mouthfeel.

Once we were seated, the dishes arrived at the table in waves, the suggested sake pairings by Nancy were all presented at the same time, and guests were invited to interact with the various dishes.

The first round of dishes included peel-and-eat prawns that packed a punch of flavor marinated in a party of dried chilies and served with grilled ice plant. Monterey Bay whelks with sourdough breadcrumbs and Charter Oak’s signature garden vegetables with a fermented soy dip. Nancy’s pairing was the popular Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai from Iwate prefecture, a complex, yet elegant, sake that highlighted the spice and freshness of the dishes.

For the second set, Nancy chose a unique style to match the intensity and umami driven dishes, Kiku Masamune Tarusake, an earthy and spiced sake from Hyogo prefecture that has cedar wood contact lifting the woodsy aromatics out of the glass and complementing with layers of cinnamon and sandalwood.

As for chef’s choices, grilled matsutake mushrooms with Chicken Bagna Cauda and bitter greens dressed with Mt. Hood apples, chestnuts and toasted yeast dressing was celebration of textures and flavors that truly needed a big boy to dance; the tarusake was a fun and bold companion.

Next move from the kitchen was a sensory overload full of gems that had the guests in awe, bite after bite. Young sturgeon with day lily pesto and an unexpected lavender and garlic grilled hanger steak took everyone by surprise, with braised fall greens, Mendocino seaweed and the flavorful red kuri squash with caramelized koji and almonds.

The sake component consisted of two different and delicious winners: Ken Junmai Daiginjo from Fukushima prefecture, full of citrus notes and the characteristical zippy Fukushima signature, along with the thought-provoking and structured Mana 1751 Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai Muroka Genshu from Fukui prefecture produced by utilizing ancient methods to deliver a memorable and nutty sake.

For the grand finale, Nancy brought back the Mio sparkling sake, which beautifully engaged with Kostow’s rice pudding with spicebush syrup and dried peaches, creating the ultimate dessert fest. Creamy, spiced and just a tad of sweetness, which brought the best of both components.

It is certainly more of this kind of event that sake needs to break the mold and expose the endless possibilities to enjoy sake on a daily basis and with various cuisines. Nothing makes me happier than to see the guests’ expressions when finding the perfect sake match for a non-Japanese dish.

Cheers until next week!

Eduardo can be reached at

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